The band has a very specific aim with Defying Gravity; to produce a new collection of strong songs that feature the band doing EXACTLY what they’re good at, and to provide their fans with exactly what they want. It’s the same thing JJ Abrams must have gone through when he was handed the keys to Star Wars.
Mr Big waste no time providing chunky riffs, strong grooves and melodic choruses, rich with backing vocal harmonies. The first track ‘Open Your Eyes’ rips into a gloriously heavy opening riff, followed by some synchronised guitar and bass acrobatics. The verse is groovy as hell, and the whole thing belongs on my iPhone yesterday. The drums drives hard and the chorus is uplifting.
The title track simultaneously reminds me of Moving Pictures-era Rush and somehow ‘Learn To Fly’ by the Foo Fighters (fitting given the title). There’s plenty of momentum. ‘Everybody Needs A Little Trouble’ has a dirty back-alley groove. “Can I get a witness?” Eric Martin asks, before declaring himself as, “Wild as I wanna be.”
Speaking of lyrics, “Damn I’m In Love Again” features some of the most charming on the record. “Doesn’t matter what I do, my happiness is tied to you / And I can’t go back, everything has changed.” There’s almost a country groove here. “If you need a perfect man I’ll do my best / Damn. I’m in love again”. The strings give it a little something extra.
Which brings me to one of the things that frustrates me most about this record. It’s not that the production is any less than flawless. The mix is great throughout, everything audible and coming through strong. The guitars and bass sound great. But on ‘Nothing Bad (‘Bout Feeling Good)’ and ‘Forever And Back’ there are these incredibly widescreen songs. The latter is almost knowingly Disney; Martin singing “I’ve been a fool to my princess” over a song built on The Who-esque guitars phasing in and out with massive, magical vocal harmonies. The backing vocals deserve an award on literally every song, in fact. It’s just that the touches of production present – the strings on these ballads, for example, work brilliantly but are rare. Generally the production favoured seems to be “only what’s needed”. It gives that live-in-the-studio approach but makes the record seem a little too glaringly obvious.
Not that this isn’t a great album. Every single song has something going for it. ‘She’s All Coming Back To Me 1992’ and ‘Mean To Me’ both being well-written songs. It’s accessible. It’s memorable. It sounds damn good. The vocals are fantastic throughout, the guitar leads enhance everything, the rhythm section is tight. It just somehow feels more like just another collection of songs than an album; than a genuine Event. It feels almost lacking in dimensions, atmosphere and sonic depth. They stripped it down and let the songwriting do the talking when there was so much here to shout about.
Something about it just feels a little like Defying Gravity should have been a bigger deal. Which, given the band’s name, is more than a little ironic.
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